The manhunt continued late Thursday afternoon for the man suspected of gunning down a Newman Police Department corporal.
Stanislaus County detectives searched a farmhouse about 12 miles south of Merced on Thursday afternoon in connection with the shooting death of Cpl. Ronil Singh.
While no suspect was found on that property, Sgt. Tom Letras said it was one of several searches being conducted on a day filled with urgency, emotion and politics from afar.
Speaking at a news conference in Newman Thursday morning, Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson said he believed the suspect was still in the area, although he would not elaborate.
“We will find him, we will arrest him and we will bring him to justice,” he said.
Singh, 33, was shot and killed at 1 a.m. Wednesday after pulling over a suspected drunk driver at Merced Street and Eucalyptus Avenue.
Christianson said investigators have identified the suspect, and that he was in the country illegally.
“He doesn’t belong here; he is a criminal,” the sheriff said.
Less than two hours after after the press conference, President Donald Trump Tweeted about the suspect’s illegal immigration status.
“There is right now a full scale manhunt going on in California for an illegal immigrant accused of shooting and killing a police officer during a traffic stop. Time to get tough on Border Security. Build the Wall!” he Tweeted.
Christianson said he could not speak to whether the suspect is believed to have been alone at the time of the traffic stop and shooting. He did say deputies are looking for no other suspects.
“The primary suspect is the only suspect involved in the murder of Officer Singh,” Christianson said.
He said Singh exchanged gunfire with the suspect but is not believed to have hit him.
“It was a gunfight,” the sheriff said. “Cpl. Singh absolutely tried to defend himself and stop this credible threat.”
The truck the suspect was driving was found Wednesday afternoon at a mobile home park in the 26000 block of River Road, about 4.5 miles northeast of the shooting scene.
The sheriff would not comment on any possible connection the suspect has to the mobile home park, or whether anyone is thought to have helped him flee after the truck was left there.
The search late Thursday afternoon was conducted in the tiny town of El Nido near Highway 59 and East Roosevelt Road. Law enforcement officers from Stanislaus and Merced counties dispersed by about 4:30 p.m., without comment.
At the morning news conference, an emotional Newman Police Chief Randy Richardson focused on Singh and what made him special.
He spoke through tears about his corporal and the impact his death has had on the small department of 12 sworn officers. This is the first line-of-duty death for the Newman Police Department. Richardson said his department is hurting and “struggling through this.”
“You have to understand, this was not supposed to happen here,” the chief told a room full of media and community members at the Police Department. At one point, he held up a photograph of Singh with his narcotics K9, Sam. “I have been to too many of these funerals and I never thought, ever, that I would ever have to do this. I do not want to be here today.”
Richardson said Singh immigrated to the United States from Fiji, determined to be a police officer. He commuted more than two and a half hours from his home to the police academy in Yuba City, which he put himself through.
He worked as a reserve officer for the Merced County Sheriff’s Office and as a cadet and animal control officer in Turlock before being hired by Newman in 2011.
“Anything he could do to get his foot in the door in law enforcement,” Richardson said.
English was Singh’s third language, the chief said. His thick accent made it difficult for him to communicate with dispatch, so he took speech classes.
“He truly loved what he did,” Richardson said. “You’ve never seen a man smile more than him. I know that is said a lot in these things, but you ask anyone, he was never in a bad mood. He loved being a police officer, he loved being a husband, he loved being a father. He loved to hunt, he loved to fish ... jet ski and ride his flyboard.”
Singh is survived by his wife, Anamika, and their infant son.
“His five-month-old, he will never hear talk; he will never see his son walk; he will never get to hold that little boy, hug his wife, say goodnight anymore, because a coward took his life,” Richardson said.
Richardson said he relieved Singh early at 4 a.m. on Christmas Day so he could spend some time with his wife and son at their home in northeast Modesto.
A picture posted on Facebook shows the family posing in front of its Christmas tree, Singh is wearing his uniform and he’d dressed Sam in a Mrs. Claus outfit. Richardson said Sam was wearing that same outfit when he let her out of Singh’s patrol car shortly after the shooting.
Richardson said Sam is now back home with Singh’s family and will be retired from service. “I will not take another member of that family from them,” the chief said.
A memorial fund has been set up for the family by the Stanislaus Sworn Deputies Association.
Erin Tracy: 209-578-2366, @ModestoBeeCrime
Deke Farrow: 209-918-6945, @DekeFarrow